On Hera In The Orphic Canon – The Sovereign Queen & Sky Father’s Equal

It is occasionally alleged that our belief in a Goddess Who is, we may say, not only the “Radiant Queen of the Heavens” – but also an Imperial Sovereign over existence, and an ‘Equal’ (rather than a ‘Chattel’) to Her Husband, the Sky Father … is some form of curiously specific Hindu enthusiasm that we are ‘projecting’ back out at the rest of the Indo-European sphere. And, in so doing, effectively seeking to ‘erase’ actual archaic understandings from, say, the Hellenic sphere in favour of a decidedly ‘modern’ (and likely ‘gender-political’) agenda. 

Perish the thought. If these ideas for such a hailing for the Wife of the Sky Father are felt to be ‘foreign’ to any but the (Shakta) Hindusphere, it is only because there is a lack of awareness of the actual and decidedly ancient materials elsewhere which concord with such. 

One such example is provided for us via the Orphic Hymnal to Hera; with additional elements of interest coming to us also from other sources. 

Now before we discuss the actual line in question, it is necessary to address the actual nature of the major text we shall be drawing from. 

You will often hear it said that the Orphic corpus is comparatively late – much of it dating to the half-millennium or so which spans two to three centuries either side of 0 AD. This is … contentious, and in any case rather misses the point.

Sustained analysis of the contents of various of these Hymnals (and, to varying extents, the accompanying ‘Fragments’) has demonstrated that the ‘essences’ in question are often almost certainly much older.

We briefly illustrated a tangible manifestation of this in our recent comparative analysis of both the Homeric and Orphic Hymnals to Hestia in relation to particular of the Vedic liturgical and ritualine declarations for Vak.

Therein, it became apparent that the integral elements in the Orphic Hymnal in question both ‘resonated with’ and overtly ‘carried forward’ not only what was found in the ostensibly more archaic Homeric canon – but also the ancestral Indo-European mytho-religious sphere that had likewise given rise to the relevant Vedic understandings around Vak. 

This is important to emphasize, as there is a persistent strain of thought which seemingly endeavours almost to ‘excise’ the Orphic corpus from the broader Indo-European conversation on grounds of their contents supposedly being substantively ‘foreign’ to same.

And whilst we absolutely do not disagree that certain Orphic texts or fragments are clearly very late developments and/or bearers of the metaphysical ‘imprintings’ of non-Indo-European complexes of belief around the Mediterranean – our objection is to the presumption that this necessitates the disregarding of all the rest of the Orphic canon as if it were all of this nature. It quite clearly isn’t.

Phrased another way (and more succinctly): where elements found in the Orphic corpus concord with other and more archaic elements found elsewhere in the Indo-European sphere, we can at least countenance the likely probability of these elements being, indeed, ‘foundationally’ Indo-European. 

Yet let us move on. And actually begin to address the substantive matters in question. 

To begin, here is the Taylor translation – which, whilst serviceable, is perhaps itself a bit archaic in some of its approaches (dating, as it does, from 1792). It has, therefore, unintentionally obscurated some of our more salient points of interest. 

“O Royal Juno [Hera] of majestic mien, aerial-form’d, divine, Jove’s [Zeus’] blessed queen,
Thron’d in the bosom of cærulean air, the race of mortals is Thy constant care.
The cooling gales Thy pow’r alone inspires, which nourish life, which ev’ry life desires.
Mother of clouds and winds, from Thee alone producing all things, mortal life is known:
All natures share Thy temp’rament divine, and universal sway alone is Thine.
With founding blasts of wind, the swelling sea and rolling rivers roar, when shook by Thee.
Come, blessed Goddess, fam’d almighty queen, with aspect kind, rejoicing and serene.”

Now, via way of comparison, here’s the much more recent Athanassakis translation (circa 2013):

You lodge Yourself in dark hollows,
/ and Your form is airy,
O Hera, blessed queen of all,
/ consort of Zeus. 
The soft breezes You send to mortals 
/ nourish the soul, 
O Mother of rains, Mother of the winds,
/ You give birth to all. 
Life does not exist without You,
/ growth does not exist without You. 
You are in everything, 
/ even in the air we venerate, 
You are Queen, 
/ and You are Mistress,
You toss and turn, 
/ when the rushing wind tosses and turns. 
O blessed Goddess, 
/ many-named Queen of all, 
may You come with kindness
/ on Your joyous face. 

I personally find this modern rendering to lack much of the power and grace of the Taylor effort from roughly two hundred and twenty years earlier. It is also, if anything, worse for our purposes – but more upon that in a moment. 

The translation which I personally favour is the ‘Hellenismos’ / ‘Hellenic Gods’ effort:

You are seated in a cerulean cavern, having the form of air, 
Íra [Hera] queen of all, happy one who shares the bed of Zefs [Zeus],
You provide gentle breezes which sustain the soul.
Mother indeed of storms, attendant of the winds, all-begetting.
Apart from You life and generation cannot be found;
Mingled with the majestic air You partake of everything.
You alone hold sovereignty, ruling over all.
You are the stream which flutters down through the rushing winds.
And now You, happy Goddess, many named, queen of all,
Come with a countenance of kindness and joy.

Now there are several points of interest for us, which are very difficult to get across utilizing only a single translation. The depth and nuance of the actual Ancient Greek terms deployed is, of course, not readily rendered via the rather more two-dimensional interpretations afforded to us through modern(ish) English. 

For example, the word ὄμβρος (Ombros), which is rendered as ‘Clouds’ by Taylor, ‘Rains’ by Athanassakis, and ‘Storms’ by the ‘Hellenic Gods’ translation. The actual sense is inclusive of all of these – not merely rainfall, but potentially quite a torrent; and both a thunderstorm, yet also the pluvial element which irreducibly accompanies same. The issue is that if we were to say ‘Clouds’, it lacks the violence – the urgency, the activity. If we were to say ‘Rain’, then one’s mind may as well go to a gentle drizzle as much as a serious cloudburst. And in neither case is the fury of the Storm so directly apparent. 

In any case, my reason for highlighting that particular term is quite simple. Because unless it were directly there in front of you, who would believe that we had the Wife of the Sky Father in the Greek / Hellenic context carrying out acts of nurturing the earth from above .. and, it should seem, wielding the force of the Storm as well. Although I should, of course, note that these understandings for Goddess caused rainfall and storms are, in fact, reasonably well-attested in various swathes of the Indo-European sphere. Consider the Latin Tempestas, for instance – or the array of Shakta understandings of the Wife of the Sky Father (Shiva) Who have such a purview. We also find further mention for female figures carrying out a rainfall causation in the Classical sphere when considering the Hyades, or the Nephele Who accompany Artemis. But more upon all of that some other time. 

My point is quite a simple one. Something that, at first, might look peculiar and out of place – in fact, when we examine the field a little more broadly, becomes entirely more normal and even to be expected. Especially when we consider that Hera is, in truth, a Sky Goddess rather than (only) an ‘Earth Mother’. In fact, it is a subject of considerable bemusement that when I was reading some of the academic commentaries upon this Orphic Hymnal in question, I seemed to keep running into insistent efforts to link the Hera depicted specifically in this Hymnal to said ‘Earth Mother’ archetypal understanding. Even though, as anyone can quite clearly see, this is a ‘Sky Mother’ par excellence – something even still salient for the Greeks Themselves when we consider the attempted folk-etymology (found, for example, in Plato’s Phaedrus) for “Hera” as effectively correlating with ‘Air’. 

Now there are some further points which I can and most certainly should make upon the understandings just briefly touched upon there – including my distinct suspicion that these verses shall resonate quite directly with the RigVedic verses wherein Aditi is Mother to the Maruts (‘Mother of Storms’, indeed) – but we shall consider that in another (A)Arti-cle. And I should seek to move more directly to the point I had actually intended to make with this piece itself ! 

As we have said, there is a frequent perception out there that within the Indo-European mythology and religion, the woman or the wife or the queen is almost a chattel – merely some ‘adornment’ of Her Husband, and significantly less capable of exercising meaningful agency or wielding genuine power or rulership than even a male of a lower order. There are prominent exceptions to this in just about every possible manner – yet for some reason these never really seem to ‘stick’ in the imagination of those ill-favourably disposed towards such concepts’ challengement. Even where we can point out quite directly that Cosmic Order is fairly consistently Goddess-mediated / embodied (or, for that matter, that the Ultimate Enforcement Clause, feared by All, is likewise a Goddess), it seems to do little to cause these sorts to budge. Because it doesn’t fit the ‘story’ – not the Myth, the story – that they have told themselves over and over until they’ve forgotten that it’s just that and little-but-nothing more (albeit a regrettably pervasive and broadly externally-reinforcing one). 

So therefore, I found certain of the actual words used in the original Ancient Greek for this Hymnal most intriguing. 

So, for example, whilst some might take a term like παμβασίλεια (PamBasileia – ‘All-Ruler’, or perhaps more figuratively, ‘All-Powerful Ruler’) as effectively being just exactly that – a title, and one one could try and insist was merely ‘contingent’ upon Her Almighty Husband … 

Line Seven rather undercuts such an attempted dismissal. What does it say? πάντων γὰρ κρατέεις μούνη And, because that’s no doubt ‘all Greek to [many]’, word-by-word it’s – ‘of all’ (panton), ‘which’ (gar), (krataeis – a term we shall address directly), ‘alone’ (moune). 

Krataeis, here, is the verb; and as one might presume, it derives from Kratos (κρᾰ́τος) – a term, in Ancient Greek, which refers to “power”, force, strength, might. [As a brief point of interest – the Sanskrit cognate, क्रतु (Kratu), whilst also incorporating the ‘power’ element, pointedly emphasizes ‘intelligence’, ‘understanding’, ‘plan’. This actually goes very well with the Proto-Indo-European archaic to both Kratu and Kratos – *Kret – which can mean ‘strength’, but *also* intelligence and insight. Knowledge, as they say, is Power – and Knowing is half the battle … with the other half evidently being force-projection].

Hence, we are unsurprised to encounter its derivative verbal form, ‘krateo’ (κρατέω), referring to ‘rulership’, ‘conquest’, ‘command’. Hence, Krataeis in relation to Hera – “You Rule”, ‘You [have] Power’, “You Command”; and in the context of the Ancient Greek verse in question – You Alone Exercise Rulership Over All. 

This is, in short, not something which can be easily dismissed as a Goddess merely being referred to as a Ruler (Queen) simply because Her Husband is a King. Because She is actively engaged in the activity of Ruling. 

The next half of the line is similarly direct. πάντεσσί τ’ ἀνάσσεις – ‘to all’ (pantessin) , τ’ either being a second person pronoun or a conjunction, ‘You rule / reign / lord’ (Anasseis). Or, to phrase the mat(t)er directly – ‘You Rule / Reign Over All’.

Once again, it is difficult to take this clause at anything other than direct face value – precisely because the term for rulership being deployed here is not a noun or a title, but rather an active (literally) verb (indeed, strictly speaking, it’s also an indicative one as well). 

However, I do think that the precise ambit of the term deserves closer examination. For the word at its root – ἄνᾰξ (Anax; in more archaic Greek, ϝάναξ – ‘Wanax’) – is in some ways rather more grandiose than just ‘ruler’ or ‘regent’ might imply. 

Effectively, (W)Anax might be feasibly read as something more akin to ‘Emperor’; and it sustains our interest as a Bronze Age labelling for what appears to have been an ‘over-king’, which fell out of general use for humans about the time that the Bronze Age Collapse rendered large-scale empires and empire-building in the Hellenic sphere (or much anywhere else in the Mediterranean North, for that matter) a similar improbability. However, the term itself persisted both in personal names (for example, the well-known philosophers, Anaximander and Anaxagoras) … and, more tellingly, in the theological sphere.

There, we find Anax (and Anakes / Anaktes in the plural) utilized in an array of ways. Much attention has been focused upon Zeus as bearing such a titular epithet (and, for that matter, Poseidon in the Mycenaean era as ‘Wanax’, likewise – same God, after all), and it is not hard to see why; although it also occurs in direct relation to an array of other Gods – seemingly, we may surmise, in a more generic sense almost akin to how we might place a ‘Lord’ in front of the name of a God as a direct marker of status. In this, it resonates with what we encounter in the Nordic sphere for ‘Regin’ / *ᚱᚨᚷᛁᚾᚨ – ‘The Rulers’, a term used as a collective hailing for The Gods. Who are, after all, the Rulers of the Universe. 

And this is ultimately why verses and exigeticals like this are of use to us. Because while a (hypothetical) mention for Hera as ‘Anassa’ (ᾰ̓́νασσᾰ) could be read as simply meaning either ‘Goddess’, or Wife of The Divine (W)Anax … when instead of a ‘title’, we encounter an ‘action’, it becomes much harder to meaningfully dispute. 

We therefore see Hera here as a Power in Her Own Rite, actively engaged in the essential and irreducible undertakings which are the sine qua non characteristics and requirements for the Divine Sovereign. In this regard, we might see a fairly direct parallel with how ‘Ishvara’ (usually Shiva, the Sky Father) and ‘Ishvari’ (usually Devi – His Wife) in the Hindusphere are interpreted – I personally translate these as ‘God-Emperor’ and ‘God-Empress’, although commentary will more usually approach the theonymic title as something akin to ‘Controller’ (of the Universe Entire), the Supporter of such (for instance, Jagaddhatri) being quite salient here, likewise. 

Now, of course, it is perhaps important to note that the Hymnal makes a point of describing Hera as (also) operating in rather direct conjunction with Zeus. Indeed, the second line directly hails the aforementioned PamBasileia (‘All-Ruler’) as She Who is Διὸς σύλλεκτρε μάκαιρα (Dios Syllektrae Makaira) – that is to say, Heaven / Zeus’ (Dios’) , Bed-Sharer (Lektron and Sul / Sun respectively) ,  Happy / Blessed One (Makaira). This has obvious import for various of the agencies that are ascribed to Her elsewhere within the Hymnal – or, for that matter, which we may countenance for Her upon the basis of the comparative Indo-European theology. 

Indeed, we note with considerable interest the several mentions elsewhere in the Orphic canon (admittedly, within the Fragments) for Hera as being ἰσοτελὴς (isotelis) with Her Husband ; a fascinating term which, due to the multifaceted nature of ‘telos’ (τέλος), we could translate in several pointedly relevant ways. ‘Equal Power’, for instance, or ‘Equal Dutied’, ‘Equal Tasked’, ‘Equal Stature’ – or, as various translational renderings have it: ‘Equal Rank’. 

Something that may seem slightly out of keeping with how one might ordinarily think of marital situations in amidst the ancient Indo-European world … and yet, it should quite instantaneously remind one of the Ardhanarishvara ‘shared Aspect’ of Lord Shiva and Devi. 
For those unfamiliar with the term, it literally renders as ‘Half’ (‘Ardha’) ‘Woman’ (‘Nari’) ‘Divine Ruler’ (‘Ishvara’) – or, as it is often translated ‘The Lord Who Is Half Woman’. That is to say, Lord Shiva & His Wife as the married couple so perfect in Their Unity that They are as One. 

In any case, while there is quite a huge swathe more we could say about just about all of the above – for now, I suspect, it is almost enough. We have amply demonstrated that – at least in this particular corner of the Hellenic corpus – various elements we have often spoken of in reference to the Hindusphere also seem to co-occur elsewhere in the archaic Indo-European religious perception; and that various ‘comfortable orthodoxies’ about what a Goddess ‘should’ or ‘should not’ be, be capable of, are worth continually re-evaluating in light of evidence that is not so much ‘new’ as ancient and often peculiarly overlooked. Perhaps because to do anything else should prove decidedly inconvenient for Her detractors. 

Hence the ever-more-pressing need for work such as this to re-illuminate the imperial truth to the mat(t)er. 

Jai Mata Di. 

2 thoughts on “On Hera In The Orphic Canon – The Sovereign Queen & Sky Father’s Equal

  1. Pingback: On Hera In The Orphic Canon – The Sovereign Queen & Sky Father’s Equal – Glyn Hnutu-healh: History, Alchemy, and Me

  2. Pingback: On Hera In The Orphic Canon – The Sovereign Queen & Sky Father’s Equal — arya-akasha | Vermont Folk Troth

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